Growing up in a college town, football was a way of life. It’s what you did on Saturdays during the fall. I can remember tailgaiting right outside the stadium with some of my friends. What I didn’t understand then that I do now, was their parents must’ve been some kind of boosters to have had that kind of placement; I guess the catered spread and open bar should’ve told me something, too, but when you’re a kid, that kind of thing is wasted. Even if we had tickets in the stands, we’d sit on the hill and hang out with friends, pretty much oblivious to the game until halftime (I’m a girl, it was never actually about “football” for me).

As the teen years approached, it was also about Friday night highschool ball. The two highschools in our hometown were always in contention for the State title, those were definitely the glory years. The coach was an institution, silver buzz cut for as long as I can remember, deep grooves in his face from seasons spent in the sun, he knew EVERYONE’S name, whether they played ball or not. He was driven and devoted and fair, and he taught “his kids” a way of life, not just a game. The good ones are cut from the same cloth, aren’t they?

I’m smiling while I write this, because I can almost feel the heat of a Saturday afternoon college game…I can smell the mixture of grass and sweat and alcohol (not from me, from others, older, who somehow didn’t garner a seat in the stands, and who thought the only way to watch a game was to do so with the companions of bourbon and Coke). And, oh, those Friday nights, especially later in the season–cool and crisp and the weekly anticipation of a win, which happened more often than not.

I remember thinking I could never “like” someone who didn’t like football. That statement is LUDICROUS to me now, but growing up, I guess I thought it was some kind of measure of masculinity. Anyone who didn’t enjoy the game, must be a wimp. This wasn’t taught…it was “caught”. I guess from the passion and intensity of living in a place where winning was a way of life. Sometime after my own college won a National Championship (and then got put on probation for the rest of my college years :/), sometime after graduation, I realized I really didn’t like watching football, it was the accompanying pagentry that allured me, and gradually it no longer held my interest.

Until now.

My baby is playing football. I am rather certain, he would (will) cringe reading this, especially because I called him “baby”. He’s in middle school now and this is his first year playing. His work ethic amazes me–he has not complained once about the heat (over 100 degree heat index every day at practice with ridiculous humidity) or how hard they’re being driven. You gotta know Thomas…he’ll avoid work–or anything that resembles it–with every fiber of his being. Until now. The kid is REVELING in the midst. He took a pretty rough lick at practice, and came home to show me his “badge of honor”–from the top of his shoulder to his elbow, his arm looks like a side of beef after Rocky got through with it; instead, it was the helmet of one of his best friends, nailing him at “top speed” (took him by surprise, lol, never saw it coming). Lesson learned.

I’ve been caught off guard by the bearish mother-emotion that is surfacing within. Savage and raw and protective. This game “looks” so different to me now. I see its brutality. I can feel the inner rage of an unjust call, yet the first game hasn’t even been played! It no longer holds the romantic, nostalgic allure it once held…it’s no longer a measure of masculinity . I feel the pain of every mother whose child is at the bottom of a pile of bodies…or is it worse to be the mom whose child never sees field time?

Why do I find myself thinking golf or tennis is the way to go? Even soccer and basketball–not exactly “contact” sports–scare me now. The boys are bigger. They play to win. Whatever the cost.

Can you tell I danced for ten years? Ballet. Geez………what a powderpuff, I am. Then, again, it was in the pre-Title IX era.

Postscript: The season is over…and it ended without a single win :/. Thomas’ “big play” was recovering an on-sides kick. If “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” is true, they played well. In spite of eight losses, they never gave up. They didn’t talk smack and their enthusiasm never waned. They’ve learned what it is to taste loss, and I imagine they’ve built more character than any 12 year old is interested in.

…and they’re already excited about next year :).

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